With The Lord of the Rings – Shadow of War being announced recently with a good trailer followed by several good content information videos courtesy of IGN’s ‘IGN Firsts’ series, I thought it was time to go back and replay the 2014 ‘Game of the Year’ winner that was ‘The Lord of the Rings – Shadow of Mordor’.
There were 3 reasons for this, firstly I was excited for the new release (I will explain why more specifically later), secondly, I am a HUGE Lord of the Rings fan and any excuse to go back into that world I will always take without hesitation (The Hobbit Films aside), and thirdly because my memories of the game were that it was enjoyable without being all that memorable or ‘good’. It won many awards and plaudits for its mechanics and most notably its marquee ‘nemesis’ system however so maybe I was just remembering wrong or had simply forgot the good points as it was just over 3 years ago now.
At the time of its release I remember there being lots of talk about it copying the style if not some of the exact mechanics from the Assassins Creed games and this was certainly evident when playing the game. The fortress environments and the way Talion could move about and strike at the soldiers within them was very much like Ubisoft’s mega franchise but with a few tweaks.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing, however at the time of publishing the game we were within the 1 Assassins Creed a year cycle and the gameplay was almost too familiar and I think this may have been one of the reasons that I was not enamoured with it. I felt I had almost just played this game already but with different characters.
Here we are now though in 2017 and with no Assassins Creed game since ‘Syndicate’ in 2015 the gameplay was more entertaining this time around and I bought into it a bit more.
Talion himself I must admit I failed to buy into as a gripping protagonist along with his elven wraith counterpart Celebrimbor and now after replaying the game I still feel the same way. Shadow of Mordor failed to give me enough of these characters and what they were about. I never really bought into Talion’s desire for revenge on those who killed his family, and Celebrimbor is a mystery that is unravelled over the games course but one that I was not rushing to solve. In fact, the more story driver Celebrimbor missions are in my opinion some of the weakest Story missions of the game. This is something that even the DLC ‘The Bright Lord’ has not changed my opinion on, yes there is a bit of ambiguity about his motives and desire for good or for power but again not fleshed out enough. The character design did seem a bit like it was setting itself up for more to be revealed in a sequel. So, here’s hoping it will be explored more and better in Shadow of War.
The games graphics are good and were a step forward at the time as Shadow of Mordor was one of the first big Triple A games published on the ‘next-gen’ consoles, however it is starting to look a little dated now developers are getting a better grip on what the consoles can do, especially with the extra power coming from the PS4 Pro and the soon to be released Xbox Scorpio. So, while this is something that I cannot complain about it is something worth noting as if you were new to the series and wanting to play Shadow of Mordor before Shadow of War then it may be a little jarring.
Graphics aside then, the game world does look good, the barren rocky ash like valleys of Mordor around the black gate really made me feel like I was in a location not seen much in the films, and the Green shores of Nurn, fertile from the Volcano that is Mount Doom (Before it erupts again) while at first pulled me out of the experience, was actually a very clever use of world design. Of course, there would be lush vegetation around a volcano due to the fertile ground, after all Mt Doom has not erupted in nearly an Age at the point of the game.
Despite this smart world design, I found it did not hook me in enough. As a big Lord of the Rings fan I wanted to spend more time up close with location I know from either the films or books. Not enough time was spent on the Black Gates and you cannot go back to them outside of the scripted events at the beginning and end of the game. So, while I enjoyed being within Mordor I could easily have been in any other ‘Orc’ filled world. The fortresses were built with aesthetics taken from the films and this was a good thing however they were of little note to me and merely just another place to move through in this world.
(above) some orc architecture looks true to the films but was just not that interesting.
It sounds like Shadow of War has a bigger world to play around in and I dearly hope we will see some more locations that you only hear of or glimpse briefly in the films and read about in the books.
The same applies to the antagonists of Shadow of Mordor, they were of little note. I have read the full-length books and could not recall the characters who I was hunting down. (Yes, I may have forgotten but that’s hardly a good choice of character to use in that case). One of the things I am most looking forward to in Shadow of War is the reveal that the Nazgul will be foes within the game. These are some Characters I would love to find out more on and experience a different and new story around. Some of my favourite moments in the Extended Films and the few moments I enjoyed in the Hobbit films revolved around learning and seeing more Lore regarding these Legendary servants of the Dark Lord. What had they been doing before the ring was found, how do citizens of middle earth feel about them, how much do the Orcs and Uruks respect or fear these Wraiths. That is definitely one of the biggest draws to the new game for me.
Finally, the much praised ‘Nemesis’ system, yes its very clever and it is fun when someone you defeated comes back with an aesthetic change reflecting how you killed them before. However, at the time I have to say I paid it very little mind, I spent so much time hunting Orc captains that I did not really remember their names. If anything, it was the wounds or dialogue that gave me the knowledge this was someone I had already faced. Fast forward to 2017 and I had a different but still not positive experience with the ‘nemesis’ system. I played through the game reasonably quickly but still took some time to hunt captains for rewards etc., in that time I think I only encountered a returning enemy twice. In the games penultimate mission when ‘your nemesis’ is revealed and its meant to feel personal and organic, I actually sat there and thought to myself ‘I don’t remember who the hell that is? When did I fight them exactly?’ The only reason I know the game did not make it up is that he had wraps over his face indicating I had at one point killed him using fire.
(above – the ‘nemesis’ system was a great step forward but not the leap many praised it for being)
Don’t get me wrong the idea of organic storytelling and unique characters and personality traits for your adventure is great but for me the experience was not worth all the praise it received at the time, but was a good debut for an AI system within video games. It looks to have been expanded upon for Shadow of War and I have enjoyed the things I have read and seen about it so far, therefore I am optimistic that this might be the real coming of age for the smart and innovative ‘nemesis’ system.
Overall yes, I think Shadow of Mordor is a good game but in my opinion it is not ‘Great’ and I still don’t understand why it got all the plaudits it did. If you removed the Lord the Rings aspect from it and changed to an Assassins Creed game or its own Original game I would be hard pressed to say I enjoyed it. In that case, I would more likely say that it was a bad Assassins Creed game or whatever spin they put on the world.